River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Wretired of Wretton writes to The Editor

November 2011

Dear Mr Editor,

It is common knowledge that in these modern times 1 in 3 marriages end in divorce or separation within 10 years. Although I, or should I say, we have stayed together for over 40 years and have grown together like honeysuckle. Am I not a romantic old soul?

The occasion which sparked off this note to you was reading about the recent report produced by the Family Justice Review authored by David Norgrove. He is a well respected economist and may well offer cogent views on the future of the euro, but his views on custody of children in broken homes seems to be wide of the mark.

My sparking has also been heightened by the fact that a close relative of mine in petitioning for divorce from his wife (there is a nursery aged child involved) has had the petition refused on the grounds that the couple have not been nasty enough to each other and so they are required to live separate lives for 2 years and then re-apply to the court. Any divorce is a traumatic enough experience without some legal vulture telling you to put the boot in to your erstwhile partner. In their wish to minimise the upset to the child they have tried to keep the split amicable and to share the child 50/50 with each covering for the other when necessary. Both partners in this case are highly intelligent fully employed professionals each with their own house not more than 3 miles apart.

One would think that with a conscious and difficult decision like this the judge would hear the case with both parties in agreement on the outcome and that he would say, “ I understand what you say and your circumstances, and here are your divorce papers”. After all, this was a union entered into freely by both parties and therefore after due deliberation they should be able freely to divorce. It happened in theSoviet Unionso why not here?

But the Family Justice Review is trying to turn the clock back, recommending that in a split such as this the mother should be given the role of prime carer and custodian irrespective of whether she is the better able to. They have arrived at this recommendation after studying results of an Australian ruling that both parents should be able to exercise equal access rights. In the cases where there has been an acrimonious split, the poor kids become very disturbed shuttling between two households, with two sets of rules and values.

This, I can allow, will damage any child, but to rule that the mother should be the prime carer to obviate this problem seems to credit parents, social workers and judges with no intelligence at all. In fact, to discriminate against fathers, who can also be excellent carers, is to challenge the sex discrimination legislation. All this reminds me of the Dustin Hoffman/Meryl Streep film Kramer v Kramer where the Dustin Hoffman’s character declares “when was it that women cornered the market on caring”.

The Review also refuses to recognise the role grandparents can play in dysfunctional families. Over millennia and cultures worldwide, grandparents have been responsible for caring and rearing infants while both parents brought in the harvest. We have all moved on from there, but as the nuclear family seems to be as stable as nuclear fission. There has to be recognition that grandparents do have a role to play and should have access to be able to discharge it.

Happily the Family Justice Review’s findings do not chime with the views of our current coalition government’s, so let us hope that this review is buried under a mountain of soiled nappies.

I would be interested to hear the views of your readers of the Pump on this contentious issue.

Yours sincerely

Wretired in Wretton

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